Regulation & Legislation

Truck Drivers, Truckstops Dealing With Social Distancing Issues

Groups urging governments to ease occupancy limits to facilitate delivery of essential goods
Photograph: Shutterstock

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Commercial truck drivers—and the truckstops and travel centers that support them—are an essential part of the nation’s supply chain, no less so during the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of that role, NATSO and the American Trucking Associations (ATA) have sent a letter to the heads of several organizations of state and local officials urging them to consider the operational differences among businesses when implementing social distancing guidelines to ensure that truckstops can safely serve commercial drivers without delaying the delivery of critical emergency relief supplies and other goods. 

Truckstop workers and commercial drivers are included on the list of “essential critical infrastructure workers” by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce. But many local officials are exceeding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) recommended social distancing guidelines and enforcing strict occupancy limits in travel centers, severely delaying the drivers when they stop for food or fuel, or to use restrooms, showers and other services. 

Some localities are enforcing occupancy limits of as few as five to 10 people, including employees. In certain parts of the country, this is resulting in drivers waiting in long lines to enter nearly empty truckstops to purchase food and use the facilities, which extends the delivery time for transporting goods in support of pandemic relief efforts. 

“With professional drivers moving more than 70% of the goods consumed in the U.S., it is imperative that we keep our travel centers open, while following health and social distancing guidelines, to ensure the movement of supplies throughout the country,” said Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Co., Knoxville, Tenn.

Truckstops and travel plazas frequently have a very large footprint and can average 28,000 square feet, giving them the ability to safely serve truck drivers within the 6-foot social distancing guidelines issued by the CDC without imposing extreme caps on the number of customers in a location at one time, the groups said. 

“Varying interpretations of the CDC guidelines are creating exceedingly long wait times for truck drivers to buy food, use the facilities and get back on the road, hindering their ability to deliver medical supplies or keep grocery store shelves stocked,” said NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings. “What should be 20-minute stops are turning into more than two-hour layovers. It is imperative that local enforcement officials enforce occupancy caps in truckstops in a manner that adheres to CDC social distancing guidelines without unnecessarily disrupting the efficient movement of essential supplies throughout the country.”

NATSO and ATA, both based in Alexandria, Va., expressed their concerns in a letter to the National Association of Counties; National Association of County and City Health Officials; the National League of Cities; and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. 

“Each day during this pandemic, truck drivers are out on the road making critical deliveries to markets, hospitals and consumers. If local governments impede them from making those deliveries, they are putting lives at risk,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “We urge officials at all levels of government to help our industry keep those deliveries rolling by keeping facilities open and accessible for drivers to use in a safe and efficient manner.”

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